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Democratic presidential candidates called for trade deals that take into account environmental concerns and blasted corporate influence over negotiations during a debate in Iowa on Tuesday night.

Still, three of the six candidates on stage made positive comments about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Republican President Donald Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The new trade deal, which has been hailed by auto manufacturers, was approved by the Democratic controlled U.S. House in December. It spurred disagreement among the Democratic candidates on Tuesday during their final debate before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was most vocal about his opposition to the new agreement, which he alleged would lead to outsourcing.

Sanders said environmental organizations were against the deal, which he said didn't include the phrase "climate change." He added that he was "sick and tired' of trade deals negotiated by the leaders of large corporations.

"I will not vote for a trade agreement that does not incorporate very, very strong principles to significantly lower fossil fuel emissions," Sanders said.

Other Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, described the new trade deal as a "modest improvement." The deal would give some relief to farmers and workers, Warren argued.

But she also criticized the influence of large corporations and said the country needs a "different approach."

"It will give some relief to our farmers. It will give some relief to our workers. I believe we accept that relief. We try to help the people who need help," Warren said. "And we get up the next day and fight for a better trade deal. We need a coherent trade policy."

Likewise, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted that Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka supported the deal.

"We need a big trading bloc with North America to take on China," Klobuchar said. "And the way you are stronger with China is with your allies."

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg called the USMCA "improved" but "not perfect."

Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would give environmental and labor leaders a seat at the table to help negotiate trade agreements during his administration. The country needs to focus on equipping American workers for the high-tech economy, Biden said.

"We better figure out how we begin to write the rules of the road, not China," Biden argued.

He also called for "enforcement mechanisms," saying the country needs to bring its allies together to set the rules so China can't "abuse" its power.

The U.S. House approved the USMCA on Dec. 19. It is now before the Republican-led U.S. Senate, where it is expected to receive a vote this week.

Automakers and groups that lobby for the industry in Washington have hailed the House’s passage of the USMCA, arguing free trade with Canada and Mexico is vital to Detroit manufacturers' ability to compete.

Under the USMCA, automakers will have to produce cars with 75% of parts originating from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment. The requirement, referred to as “rules of origin,” would be an increase from 62.5% under current NAFTA rules.

General Motors Co. has said it viewed the new agreement as vital to the success of the North American auto industry and indicated it would increase U.S. operations as a result.

Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top-ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, has said the deal "will create more than 176,000 jobs here in America."

Detroit News Staff Writer Keith Laing contributed to this report.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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